After an unusual public incident in which the frail, elderly president is revitalized, geckos are now considered to bring good luck. At the Ministry of Merit, Fon is secretly in charge of building the next Gecko Cannon for the family of president Bankim’s eightieth birthday. She is honored to be assigned this duty and works diligently to create and deliver this extraordinary machine.
The legendary Gecko incident occurred on the president of Bankim’s seventieth birthday. After his first heart bypass surgery, thousands of President Pranit’s loyalists flocked to the hospital and held up homemade cardboard banners that read: “Happy Birthday, Sir” and “Long may you reign!” They gasped when their Guiding Sun Rays’ security guards wheeled him down the exit ramp. His Excellency, in his wheelchair, was nothing more than a skeleton of his former self; his once full face now thin; patches of white hair clung to his scalp; and his hollowed complexion brought tears to many of his citizens’ eyes. Murmurs spread through the crowd that he was “near-death,” and even the news reporters put down their cameras out of respect for not wanting to photograph the president in his fragile state.
While being escorted to his Rolls Royce, a gecko landed on President Pranit’s lap. A bright green, bug-eyed, common house gecko! The president let out a small yelp of surprise and the gecko started clicking, tokay-tokay-tokay, while the president’s many security guards tried to swat the creature off his Excellency’s lap. But President Pranit scooped up the reptile himself, stood up, thin arm outstretched, and watched it run off his left hand, leap onto the wall, and crawl up towards the roof. His supporters were stunned. President Pranit had been too old and frail to stand on his own, and his residence had been repurposed twenty years ago with gold ramps and bejeweled elevators to accommodate his personal vehicle. However, this revived president restored faith in his supporters, and word spread quickly about how the gecko was truly a good luck charm; that if a gecko fell on your lap it would make you stronger; strong enough to step out of a wheelchair even after being confined to one for decades.
Fon knew that Charn the back-stabber would reference this incident as the sole inspiration for the Greenest Gecko campaign.
At the Ministry of Merit, they worked together with Kik, a team of three, in a large, brightly-lit office coming up with ways for the religious people of Bankim to tum boon – make merit – which in turn, would help them be reborn in higher realms. The Bans were religious, everyone had to be in these times. Soldiers in khakis lined highways while military groups recycled potential leaders to rally support from the people, preparing for that fateful day: to seize the office from their dead president. Fon could barely keep up with the new faces in politics. There was Pommy the Socialist. Tippawat or was it Tippaway, the Oxford-educated businesswoman. Jaew, the wife-cheating horticulturist. All of whom, along with the rest of Bankim, believed that their good luck in this life was due to good luck from their past life.
In order to be reborn in higher realms once you died, you made merit, earned points to erase your wrongdoings and ensure a better immediate future. “Human beings,” Fon had said in her job interview three years ago, “are lustful, aggressive, and deluded.” From love potions to protective amulets to expensive funeral caskets, all their boons gave a peace of mind, all their boons were carefully designed to be bought and continually sought after by the Bans. Charms strike the sight, Fon thought. Give the fools their gold.
At the office, Fon, the only female Merit Creator, was sick of her supervisor Charn for not giving her full credit for her ideas. From her desk, she watched him clink beer mugs with the rest of their coworkers. He had brought in over twenty million kims in profits for their latest boon, and all over Bankim, the greenest geckos were being caught, boxed, and shipped out to lucky owners. There wasn’t a pop star at an award show without a gecko climbing her shoulder, a boxer who didn’t clutch a live gecko during his pre-fight dance, or a doctor performing surgery without a terrarium of geckos by the door.
“Why wait for luck when you can seize it,” Charn said to cheering coworkers as he strode into the spotlight. People slapped his round shoulders and called him a genius, making him spill more beer onto the carpet. One person flung a paper-mâché gecko that struck him in the chest. Charn pointed at the trail of wet green paper down his shirt and said, “Guess who’s bringing in the next twenty million?” He gave Fon a smile as he walked past her cubicle; his glasses magnified his drunk, watery eyes. Kik, the other Merit Creator, stumbled behind, hoping that Charn’s good fortunes would rub off on him.
“You forgot my name in your thank you speech,” Fon mumbled.
“Everyone knows you did it,” he mouthed, before continuing on his parade through the department.
Fon vowed to make sure her next merit received the attention she deserved.
She slid back down into her seat and stared at her blank computer screen: What did the Bans need to believe in right now? Her desk, littered with newspaper clips of emaciated farmers in the East praying for rain, videos of construction workers blocking freeways protesting for equal pay, blog posts about adjunct professors going on strike against yet another censorship law, made her dizzy. They were worthy causes, and every one of those people wanted something else to blame for their misfortunes, something tangible to hold on to, to give hope to their miserable existences. But which group would be the gullible enough to buy a boon? Which group would be most influential in spreading it?
Fon started to sketch an idea for the emaciated farmers when she saw Kik moping around her cubicle. She swiveled on her chair to face her toad-shaped teammate and he hopped in, arms straight by his sides, looking down.
“Fon,” he said, his voice a warning. “Director Sombat wants to see you in his office.”
“Does he mean me or the genius Charn?” she said.
“He asked for just you. He didn’t seem very happy.”
Director Sombat was never very happy with Fon. She started off as his secretary. Even then, she was grateful that someone as insignificant as herself, with no family or business connection, could have been chosen to work for such an important person. The men in the ministry gossiped behind her back: How does a woman of such little stature win a coveted Merit Creator position? Did Sombat have a taste of that ripe mango between her legs? How often does she offer herself up? Director Sombat avoided the rumor mill, that he fancied her in any way other than his hardworking protégé, by constantly belittling and scolding her for Charn’s and Kik’s mistakes; mistakes they wouldn’t have made had they listened to her in the first place. She thanked Kik for the warning, and took long strides to Director Sombat’s office. She knocked at his door three times before he called her in.
“Fon,” he said, without looking up from his desk. “I like what you’ve been doing.”
He slid a letter toward her. Fon eyed the ex-minister to the president with wide eyes. She admired him. In the last coup, everyone knew it was Sombat who advised the president to patronize the temples and religious monuments, calming down the zealots, and appearing calm, docile, and modest. The result was a bloodless revolution. No one dared to criticize a figurehead supported by monks, and Fon was delighted an influential man with such grace and intelligence led their department, even if his moods intimidated her.
She recognized the golden phoenix insignia immediately as the president’s family’s crest. “In light of the popularity of green geckos,” she read in a formal voice, “his Excellency, President for Life, and Lord of All Orbiting Planets, wants to commission the Ministry of Merit to build the first Gecko Cannon in the country.”
“They also want to copyright it, “ Director Sombat said.
“Are we in trouble?” she asked.
He reclined into his chair and his weathered face lit up. He rarely smiled, and Fon remembered being confined to meetings with him watching Charn fumble for the pointer, feeling sorry for Kik trying to hide his pink cheeks as Director Sombat tore down their proposals simply by shaking his head like a disappointed father.
“They want to be the sole proprietors of the cannon,” he said.
“And you said – ”
“Of course I said yes. We’re a business, Fon. We’re not some foot-to-mouth department like immigration services or something.”
She read the letter in her hand. “They want us to make a machine that shoots out geckos?”
“Don’t tell me you’re feeling sorry for the lizards now.”
“What does this have to do with me?”
She wanted to see what went on in his mind. She rarely questioned departmental decisions that came from Director Sombat, and especially decisions concerning the ruling party.
“Well, they want to meet the brains behind the boons to help them develop the best product,” Director Sombat said. “If I’m going to bring a nimwit to talk to them, I could at least bring with me the best looking nimwit.”
At the City Residence, Fon couldn’t help but nervously tap her feet under the table. The ceiling, covered with ornate miniature deva statues in gold crowns weighed on her like monsoon clouds. Gibbons called out for help on tree branches that brushed their windows. Mozart’s Fantasy in C Minor chimed in the background from speakers attached to pillars, pillars constructed out of marble carvings of the Ramayana; the large eyes of the demon king followed her gaze. She and Director Sombat sat in the room reserved for press, waiting for the president’s son, the Fate of Their Nation, Field Marshal Kamlesh.
Fon had picked a blue navy shift dress that stopped right before her knee and pointed heels to accentuate her lithe figure, a “pleasure for sore eyes,” as Director Sombat had said, to make a favorable impression on the young marshal in his city abode. Director Sombat wore his best suit, a tanned military button-up jacket adorned with medals, presents given by the president’s family to acknowledge his services to Bankim’s prior peaceful reign. Security guards behind them, in front of them, and across the room by the door, watched their every breath, and Fon imagined snipers hiding behind the statues above were prepared to shoot at Marshal Kamlesh’s order.
A small, tanned pageboy popped his head through the double doors and prepared them for the Marshal’s arrival. “Try not to look him in the eye,” he said, and the doors swung closed behind him as Director Sombat rolled his eyes and said, “All this protocol just for a meeting when we’ve already made the product.”
“I’m so sorry I’m an hour behind, Sombat,” Marshal Kamlesh said, walking in with wind on his heels, his voice a loud temple gong.
“My lord.” Both Director Sombat and Fon bowed in unison, fixing their eyes on his feet.
“Please, please, not amongst old friends,” Marshal Kamlesh said.
Fon understood now why women went crazy for the heir. Tall, handsome with a full head of black hair, Marshal Kamlesh was not part of the proletariat with his long, raised nose like a European movie star in black-and-white movies. He shone like Versailles, and Fon felt like a casino copy, unworthy. He held out his smooth white hands to shake Fon’s. How brazen of him! Fon saw her own dry hands link his. Brown. Nervous hands. She saw her parents, a dark house on stilts, and attempted to hide her parents and countryside origins.
“Sombat tells me you were the brains behind the cannon,” Chief Kamlesh said. “I’m excited to be working with beautiful brains.”
Fon mumbled a thank you, not missing the sheen on his black leather shoes.
“My father is very weak,” Marshal Kamlesh continued, “my mother replaces him in his stead. She busies her days visiting farmers, the clinics in the countryside, and here I am signing decrees left and right because he can’t hold up a fucking pen.”
“Traitors in the military can’t wait to take the country back again,” Director Sombat said.
Marshal Kamlesh sighed dramatically. “Which is why we need to implement some sort of plan now for our country to stay united.”
He walked to the windows. “They need to believe in their president,” he said, and Fon heard the guards refocus their aim. “They need to believe in their Father. In their new father. In our divine leadership.”
Like every other young girl growing up at the same time as Marshal Kamlesh, Fon had often dreamt of meeting him when the President’s family visited military programs around the country. Her university, the Heavenly Order of Three Orchids, notorious for producing the wives suitable to men with high military standing, had prepared her to be charming for this moment. But Fon believed she was more than charming. She had spunk. Spunk got her to where she was in the ministry. Spunk made her speak.
“We don’t believe in fathers because your family are not like us,” she said.
Director Sombat paled.
“I shit and eat and breathe like you, don’t I?” Marshal Kamlesh kept his gaze at the gibbons outside.
“You were an ordinary man chosen by Buddha. We were not.”
Their eyes met, and Fon did not smile; her presence was its own reward. Rumors of the unmarried Marshal falling in love with waitresses, taking baristas out to dinner, and sending gifts to unsuspecting hotel maids gave way to her fantasy. She came as Director Sombat’s beautiful nimwit, had been called the beautiful brain, and now she would use that to her advantage.
“And I choose you to help me, help Buddha,” he said.
“Glad we got that straight,” Director Sombat said in a hurry. “Let’s show the Marshal what we brought for him, shall we?”
From under the table, he lifted up a giant container that clanged opened revealing the shiny gold Gecko Cannon, no bigger than a tennis ball machine, and no louder than a hand fan once turned on. Fon unveiled a clear box of green geckos and dumped them into the chute. The Marshal smiled watching the lizards cling for their lives in the see-through pipe.
“My lord, would you mind standing on the opposite end of this room?” Fon asked.
She heard clicks, possibly snipers readjusting their front sights onto her forehead.
Marshal Kamlesh laughed, “It’s painted in our colors.”
He leapt to the furthest corner of the room. Fon altered the focus on the cannon, Marshal Kamlesh’s chest aligned with the target and shot. Green appeared on his right shirt pocket.
“This is constructed to not make any sound,” she said, popping another gecko on his shoulder, “with such superb accuracy so there’s no need for servants to rearrange where you need the geckos to land.” Pop, a gecko squared on his stomach. Pop, a gecko on his left arm. Pop, pop, more geckos.
Director Sombat and Fon imagined guards descending on them. Green geckos hung onto Marshal Kamlesh like tamarind pods on a tree, their dangling tails and feet swayed as he jumped up and down gleefully.
“The people need to remember that you were chosen,” Fon said. “That Buddha looks down and smiles on the man He chose to lead his people.”
“Luck on demand,” Marshal Kamlesh said.
“The Guiding Sun’s rays continue to shine down and bless us with their good fortunes.” She gave a coy smile, in line with the role of the beautiful brain she had been christened. The daughter of a chauffeur and a nanny, Fon never forgot how hard it was to work her way through her courses as a scholarship student, being told that the best thing that could happen to her at graduation was marrying a rich and important man. She knew luck played a good part in life. You walk through the doors you opened, and for Fon, if that meant winning over rich and important men with a smile, then she would smile until her cheeks shook. If that meant not raising her voice, then she would speak in whispers barely decipherable in a tomb. If that meant wooing Marshal Kamlesh to get her Cannon full exposure to the Bans, then she would make sure he imagined what was beneath her dress when he was alone in his bedroom.
Marshal Kamlesh walked over to her and Director Sombat, geckos climbed up to his head. “I want you both at my father’s belated birthday party.”
“Did he like it?” Kik asked, resting his elbows on her desk.
Back at the office, everyone knew that Fon had impressed the President’s son with her invention. Celebrations continued in her honor for the next two months, and Fon confided in Kik that she saw her profession as two halves: Before the marshal and After the marshal.
Before Marshal Kamlesh, her coworkers barely noticed her: the first to open the office and the last to leave well after dinner, the only person being called to Director Sombat’s room to be told, “Skirts below the knee.” Only after comments like, “Only the stupid wouldn’t take advantage of the ugly and helpless,” and “Well, she shouldn’t have been so drunk anyway,” would the men notice that they were in her company and say, “Sorry, you know you’re not like those girls.”
After the marshal, she received a bouquet of lilies from Charn with a card that read, “My muse.” She left that in her wastebasket. The week after that, two busty interns showed up at her cubicle in tight-fitting dresses and heels, both of whom were excited to work with such a strong, passionate mentor. Fon heard Charn’s fake compliments when they opened their mouths, so she sent them away – she wasn’t their mother. She wasn’t going to raise them simply because they were women. She wanted smart workers. Hard workers. Fearless help. The week after that, Fon received a wardrobe bonus of dresses and shoes from French brands with labels she couldn’t pronounce. These were gifts from the marshal she left piled in boxes under her desk.
“He wants a cannon built for every member of his family,” she said.
“I heard he asked Sombat if you solely came up with that idea,” Kik said. “I think he likes you.”
“What’s not to like?” Fon said.
“He’s kind only to the people he likes,” he said. “I heard he bought all the flight attendants diamonds on his last vacation abroad.”
“He’s a great symbol of continuity in this time of chaos.”
“Great symbol of continuity?” Kik said. “If you gave my dad a job from which he couldn’t be fired and a highly fortified mansion in which to live, he’d be a symbol of continuity too.”
President Pranit wasn’t to be blamed. He did everything in his power to gift his children with opportunities. Fon’s parents also sacrificed a lot for her to be where she was. Her mother cared for children that didn’t belong to her for months on end, leaving Fon to feed herself, to take the bus home when she was barely eight years old. Her father drove rich families around for decades, leaving him limping with an uneven gait. Over the years, she thanked them with every raise she received, paying off a mortgage on their house, signing off on bills they could no longer work to pay. This was the expectation between the old and the new, that the next generation did better; only this Western notion of being recognized for her efforts attracted her. Only a daughter of a nanny and a chauffeur in this day and age could be plucked out of obscurity and be reborn as a Merit Creator to the president. Only a resilient pacifist like President Pranit would hire the Ministry of Merit to work on passive ways to maintain the status quo of their country. But before she could continue with her thoughts, she remembered she had to meet with Director Sombat about their plan.
“Come in,” Director Sombat’s voice sang from behind the door. “I have to brief you on some protocols.”
Fon walked in feeling triumphant and pulled out a chair, sitting down in front of him.
“We leave tomorrow morning. Do you have formal gowns? If not, I’ll ask my wife for something you can borrow.”
She nodded. She had tried on the dresses and shoes she had received from Marshal Kamlesh, flattered that he knew exactly where the silk would cling onto her hips even after just meeting once.
“An auspicious time,” Director Sombat said, and Fon returned a smile. “We are working with a true leader who is persistent, who is motivated to better his ideals, not just his pockets.”
He pulled out blueprints from his drawer.
“The president and his immediate circle have been briefed. I trust you have been practicing your aim the past months?”
She nodded. She wanted to prove to him that he did not make a mistake in choosing her. She had been practicing in the parking garage, shooting at cars from six stories above. She had shot at moving motorcyclists. She had shot Charn square in the middle of his belt buckle this morning, from the other side of the office.
“You’ll be positioned in the clock tower to the left,” he pointed on the map. “You will shoot the geckos the moment the marshal introduces his father so that it lands on his Excellency square in the chest.”
She said yes, that was her job after all.
“Shoot a little higher than his chest so the lizards have time to crawl around for the photos. It needs to be clear so we get the best shots.”
“I’m going to ask Charn to partner up with you,” he said. “Don’t roll your eyes at me. He’ll be your extra pair of hands in case the cannon gets a little too heavy.”
“What practice does Charn have?” she spat.
Director Sombat sighed and rubbed his eyes. “It’s not just our reputation that goes down the drain if you miss the president.”
“No one will even see the little guys,” she said.
“If you miss and hit his Excellency in the eye, it’s treason.”
“I won’t hit him in the eye.”
“Remember, only the president and his closest advisors know about this plan. If you attract security, you’re on your own.”
“I’ve been on my own for the past eleven years.” She leaned across the desk, planting both elbows down to take up more space, to make more of a presence. “I think I’ve made my intentions very clear, sir.” Her sir emphasized how vital she was to him. To accompany Director Sombat to the president’s main residence for his belated birthday address was an opportunity she would not squander.
“Are you sure you don’t want someone there just in case?”
“I started this thread, so I will finish weaving it,” she said. “Besides, Charn has no practice. He will just be in the way.”
Director Sombat looked unconvinced.
“Don’t give me jobs I can’t finish, sir. I can walk out to find something much more lucrative with my skills.”
“Do you have any other questions for me, Fon?” Director Sombat asked. He meant this as a way to end their conversation, to pretend that he didn’t hear her threat.
Fon shook her head.
“It’s: no, sir.”
The ride to the Grand Residence was a bumpy one, but, thankfully, the president’s family, their security, and Fon’s team arrived safely. Once they arrived, Marshal Kamlesh stepped quickly out of the hired limo. Director Sombat grabbed Fon’s elbow to let the President’s army of hair and makeup artists go first. Security trailed them closely. Section off by walls and gates into four main courts, the President’s primary abode had been built as the country’s original administrative and religious center. Before coups and d’états, the enormous mansion housed the government, thousands of guardsmen, servants, foreign dignitaries, ministers, and courtiers. Now, it was nothing more than the sick President’s refuge.
There were hoards of people waiting for them. The crowd cheered, some of them children with their faces painted gold, students with dipped gold wreaths of jasmine around their heads, and adults in burnt orange tees chanting “Gold in the Land.” Marshal Kamlesh flashed his white teeth and waved, making sure to brush fingers with his countrymen while security enclosed him and escorted him up the stairs toward the main hall.
Fon kept the cannon close to her ribs, the machine hidden in a huge box as though she was the kind of rich woman who carried her own collection of hats. She clutched the edges tight, her fingers white from holding on to something so heavy, a classified mission that could change the course of history.
Outside, the garden was packed with lines of people buzzing on the field. Black heads of hair in ponytails or crew cuts. Ashy elbows pushed bodies closer to the large doors. Blackened feet in plastic flip-flops sank in the grass. People cheered as Marshal Kamlesh walked out onto the terrace, his pageboys and advisors joined him, hissing: “Sir, sir, we aren’t ready yet!”
The people below had their hands high, waving gold flags. The air smelled sticky with all the bodies brushing up against one another, sticky with the humid air of the ocean, and sticky with the anticipation of his speech. People tiptoed to catch a glimpse of the president’s son. Shouts of encouragement became a united roar, a force that hit so hard, she felt like she was being knocked back by a tornado through a tunnel.
“Our father built this house with his own hands,” Marshal Kamlesh bellowed. “He created us with his seed. He fed us from this land. He watched us grow with his own eyes.”
Fon looked down at the familiar faces: Grandmothers who spent decades looking after children that weren’t their own. Hawkers from the noodle-stall whose backs were now crooked from stooping over too many hot bowls of soup. Then there were the farmers, who probably sold their rice for three times less than what it was worth in order to keep their business. Poor people. Simple people. Serfs to the city people. Fon too, came from a home that had been excluded from big, political decisions, from pensions and welfares. She knew what it was like standing there, an eager supporter amongst the throngs of the ordinary, where the only way out was to wish and wait.
“This is our Father’s land and we are his children,” Marshal Kamlesh said.
Each word carefully rehearsed to sound spontaneous. Each sentence catered to the dumbest person in the mob. Each action perfectly choreographed to appear ethereal.
Cheers erupted from below.
“If you have nothing nice to say about our Father, then get out. Get out of the house he built. You are not welcome here.”
More hoo-ha. Tears wiped from eyes. Low bows.
Marshal Kamlesh bowed and swiftly turned back into the hall. Everyone was running to and from places to get the room set up for the President’s arrival. Makeup artists, yelling over speakers, asked for more wet napkins. Servants swept and mopped floors. Large men clad in military khakis and carrying machetes divided themselves into troops to make rounds inside the building.
“Fon,” Marshal Kamlesh said as he tapped her on the shoulder, “ready?”
She looked for Director Sombat. She spotted him waiting by the corner entrance to the hall speaking into his cell phone. Fon tried to catch his attention waving, but amidst the frenzy, he didn’t see her.
“Good luck, sir,” she whispered, stuck close to the Marshal and left the room.
The clock tower was a strange place, made stranger by the fact that she would share the tiny rotting sanctuary with the President’s son. Once a stronghold for garrisons to defend the Bans from neighboring countries, the tower had been neglected over centuries. Dust accumulated along the walls with bodies of dead fruit flies and Fon kicked spiderwebs from corners of the room with her feet before bringing out the cannon. She assembled the weapon on the edge of the concrete aperture, while the Marshal struggled back up the stairs with an oversize habitat of geckos.
“Do you need anything else?” he asked.
“No. I’ll wait for your signal.”
“Good.” He placed the terrarium by her feet.
“You didn’t have to carry that, my lord.”
“It’s a novelty for me, really. I wanted to carry something for someone else for the first time.”
She laughed, appealing to him. On the terrace, the ceremony had begun with the orchestra playing “Glorify His Prestige” while guards patrolled the perimeter of the garden to ensure every citizen sang along. Fon remembered a classmate in university being hauled away from the school grounds at Morning Pledge for not knowing the words. She questioned how much of her own obedience was once tied to culture, to fear. She thought of the hours she endured studying, the hours at the Ministry of Merit, the hours she put up with Charn, and for the first time, felt relieved for following all the rules up until this point. Her hard work had fated her to this meeting, and this meeting was exotic in a way that no rendezvous with a normal man could ever be.
“Thank you.” She bowed.
“There’s no need for that, thank you for helping the people believe in us.”
He became more charming the more they spent time together.
“Has Sombat ever told you about how much of a father he’s been to me?”
She shook her head. “I’m afraid I only speak to the Director about work-related matters.”
“During the Third World War, the Western allies wanted to use Bankim’s land to host their soldiers,” he said. “I didn’t believe in joining either side. Bankim has never been colonized before, which is why I told my father to refuse them. But many of our country’s elites were corrupt, selling our natural resources to both sides of the war. One day, my father came back with new weapons, and gave our army top-of-the-line machines and armor.”
Fon wasn’t sure what to say, so she kept her face stone-still and impassive.
“I asked him, ‘Who did you get it from?’ He said, ‘I made a deal with the devils.’
Fon, feeling sorry for the young marshal, reached out for his hand.
“Irate, I yelled, ‘We are not slaves to the West!’ Immediately, my father tried to have me locked up. Sedated. Thrown away. Luckily, Sombat argued on my behalf, claiming that I, a nationalist and proud son of Bankim, only wanted our country to remain autonomous.” He looked at Fon sadly. “There’s a lot of things my father has done without my knowledge, but I hope it’s all good for our people.”
Fon agreed that it was hard to do the right thing. Sometimes, the right thing never felt like the best thing. Sometimes, you had to let other people take the stage. You had to stand behind the curtain waiting for your turn, not letting your moment go. She wondered what Kamlesh would have been like, if he didn’t live his life under such scrutiny. What version of a man would he be? What type of friends would he hold dear? What kind of job would he fight for? What would he fight for?
“I wasted my younger years partying, womanizing, drinking. I regret that.”
He squeezed her hand. They were standing very close and secretive, and Fon dismissed every reason about how out of line it was to want to kiss him. Who could resist?
“I have heard no such stories,” she said.
He was a wounded bird and she could tend to him. She calculated her worth: Twenty-nine years old. University degree. Unblemished. Still single. But still very accomplished. Sure, she didn’t come from an educated stock, but she didn’t have a history of scandal or of voting for the socialists or of foreign influences. The president’s son deemed her trustworthy enough to confide in, and she no longer felt the need to win him over with her looks, for her career or for the good of the cannon. She felt buoyant, that she was in the exact right place at the right time.
“It’s hard to live up to a father when he is so revered,” he said.
She couldn’t ignore the noise outside.
“We’ll celebrate afterwards,” she said. “I’m sure your father is proud to celebrate his long reign with you.”
“Sombat told me you would be polite and gracious,” he laughed. He brought her hands to his lips, then spun around and left.
Fon went by the cannon but wasn’t sure why she wasn’t with him on the terrace.
Director Sombat did not answer Fon’s texts, messages, or phone calls. By now, the president of Bankim had appeared on the terrace. His Excellency looked even worse than on television during the legendary Gecko incident; his entire body frozen by painkillers, so much so, that he remained still as a corpse in his wheelchair. He nodded off to sleep as the celebrations continued.
The garden became silent, out of respect, but Fon suspected the crowd held their breath collectively, as though one loud sigh could propel the president off stage. Marshal Kamlesh displayed no ounce of worry behind the microphone. He spoke about his father’s legacy, about how his father gave away government-owned land to triple Bankim’s agriculture economy, how his father assigned his private physicians to provide medical care in rural villages, and how his father doled out gold from their personal accounts to the poor on a regular basis. Kik’s words about continuity rang through her head, and she believed he was nothing more than jealous of her luck. She cursed herself for doubting in the president’s family.
“Now, my father, the Guiding Sun Ray’s, President for Life, and Lord of All Orbiting Planets, has a few words he’d like to say,” Marshal Kamlesh said.
This was Fon’s cue. The cannon, filled with geckos, was loaded. She rested her elbows on the ledge and positioned the lenses to face the president. Through the glass, he was still asleep. Why nobody else had noticed the president had nodded off in this long, arduous affair, was beyond her. The pageboys, advisors, the president’s wife and her family, all sat like mannequins next to him. Director Sombat was nowhere to be seen. Fon checked her phone and pager again. Without further instructions, she shot a gecko at President Pranit’s chest.
The gecko hit his Excellency’s collarbone. But for generations to come, no one would be able to discern whether the president had died before the shot or because of it.
Instead of green slime on President Pranit’s white jacket, splats of red appeared on his chest. Dark pools of blood seeped through his decorated top, and the ancient President’s head snapped backward as he slumped down in his wheelchair.
The scene unfolded slowly for Fon. First, the masses shifted forward unanimously, like waves hitting the shore, a rising applause. Then the guards and security fired into the air, as everyone on the terrace clamored to his Excellency’s aid. The landing, covered by the president’s closest circle, swarmed him and rolled him back into the hall. Fon studied the cannon still in her hands, the greenest geckos inside crawling over one another, unaware of the magnitude of the situation.
There had been no gun shot sound from her device. Only afterwards. Follow-up explosions. But the president was dead.
She pictured Marshal Kamlesh would announce to world that this had been a joke. That his Excellency had coordinated this peaceful way of handing over the leadership to his son, that he wanted the public to see him go, so that he could live his last years in peace like a civilian, out of the public eye.
Fon’s phone rang, Director Sombat’s name flashing on-screen, and she picked it up. Her voice shook. “Sir?”
“Get out of there. Something’s gone awry. The guards are searching the entire place for shooters, and you – ”
She recalled his earlier instructions. Only the President and his closest advisors know about this plan. If you attract security, you’re on your own.
“But Marshal Kamlesh, he was just with me, he brought up the geckos.” She sounded weak and out of breath. “He saw me dump the geckos into the cannon.”
“Leave the cannon and get out.”
Boots were marching up the stairs. Orders were being yelled out; downstairs, up the stairs, and around her she heard nothing but a long buzz. She looked at the wooden doors, held to the wall by a flimsy chain. She turned to face the open aperture, her only exit. To plummet to her death. They will not take me like this, she said to herself. They will blame this death on me, but they will not have me. All the luck in the world was not enough to keep Fon from her last breath.
She envisioned the headlines for years to come. Her face was plastered over the front pages of newspapers as the suspect for assassinating President Pranit. In the future, school children and grown-ups alike would remember this as the pivotal point where the son of the president of Bankim ended all coups d’états. The citizens would reminisce about the violent past, where socialists, supported by foreign devils, hiding behind the guise of democracy, had attempted to seize power from their beloved president. They would remember the time President Pranit made deals that bankrupted their country, only to be saved by his successor. But whether it was out of fear, or out of loyalty, no one would know which side Fon really fought for. No one would really know who she was. The only evidence they would have is a photo of her lifeless body, sitting against the corner, with one hand in the cannon and the other in the terrarium, and fifty of the greenest geckos shoved down her throat.
“The Greenest Gecko” copyright © 2017 by Ploy Pirapokin
Illustration copyright © 2017 by Keren Katz